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“What is your secret? How do you get to do all these amazing things?”
I was asked this question recently when I announced on our facebook page I was flying to Dubai as a guest of Qantas to attend their partnership launch with Emirates.
Looking in at my life from the outside it’s a fair question. I get it often, or a statement like…“You’re so lucky”…or…“Aren’t you living the dream life!”
I understand. I really do.
After all, you see our status updates announcing our next exciting trip or campaign, photos of us drinking cocktails by the pool in Asia, jumping out of planes in New Zealand, going on cruises to Mexico, or taking the kids to Thailand. I know some people would be thinking – there they go again!
I have been fortunate to experience a lot of cool shit in the past three years – ate at incredible restaurants, swum at stunning beaches, drunk beer around the world, and slept in amazing properties.
I’m also very grateful for the exciting campaigns we have been a part of. There’s been the Canon photo safari to the Northern Territory, attending the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, the flight with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, seeing the orangutans in Borneo with Malaysian Airlines, the Tourism Australia Race for TQUAL, and the Qantas trip to Dubai.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
There is a whole other story. Getting to this point in our life came with a price – a massive one. Rewards will always be matched by effort and sacrifice (and passionate care).
Before I pull back the curtains on some heartbreaking moments and tell you my secrets, I just want to say,
We’re extremely grateful to all our readers because without you a blog doesn’t exist. Your emails, your comments and your support never go unappreciated and we hope we can continue to provide you with value and inspiration to travel and live your dream life.
We care to ridiculous passionate levels.
We are passionate about helping people to create life long memories through travel, change their own world and live their dreams. We understand what it feels like to live a life you are desperate to get out of. We understand the pain, the fear and its far-reaching negative effects.
Let me share with you where our passionate care comes from and WHY I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved with our blog.
I don’t believe in luck, and I’m afraid of people who do. I wish I knew the secret formula because it would have saved me YEARS of heartache, pain, and desperation.
I’m nervous about this blog post, about revealing our personal reality. But, we care about being real and authentic and we want you to see what we’ve been through so you know,
If we can do it, you can too.
We’ve always looked up to people who are where we want to be. To us, successful people have been an inspiration, not someone to tear down because of our own fears of not being able to do the same. We decided that if they could do it, there was no reason we couldn’t. We’d just have to find the way.
Even if it meant wading through a ton of shit.
From the outside my life may appear like perfect blue skies, but the reality is its been filled with many tears, mistakes, and a truck-load of guilt and regret.
Today I’m going to share with you how we went bankrupt, how I nearly lost my marriage several times, how our health stood in our way, and how we turned it around with this blog and the determination to create my dream.
This is a very LONG post. A post I have probably been writing in my head for three years, and I’ve re-written it many times over the last few weeks. But I need to get this down and on with my life.
I sprinted back to retrieve the kicked football. It bounced sharply straight back into my hands as I was at full speed and I planted my right foot down heavily to change directions. CRACK. My anterior cruciate ligament in my right knee snapped and I hit the ground like a bag of shit.
It was painful at first, but as I lay there on the stadium ground, and then on the stretcher whilst being carried from the field, the mental anguish took over from the pain and I knew that moment was the beginning of the end of my 6 year professional sporting career.
From as early as I can remember all I ever wanted to do was play football, and straight out of high school that was what I did. I played for the North Sydney Bears from 1990-96. I had no degree, no formal “job” training, and no desire to live a life other than the one I had on the footy field.
I thought my life was over.
I got the same questions as a sportsman as I do now as a blogger. From the outside, people saw me playing on TV, going on tours around the world, and hanging out with high profile people.
I was fortunate to play against legends of the game like Wally Lewis, Mal Meninga and Peter Sterling. I was paid well and travelled often. But what people didn’t see was the 10 years of hard core training and preparation behind the scenes. They thought I was just born talented and that is what got me through.
Wrong. Everyone is born with a talent, it is up to each person to decide what to do with it.
We see what people have and we label them as lucky because it’s easier that way to explain why we don’t have it ourselves. I don’t believe in lady luck. I believe you create your luck. I believe in preparation meets opportunity. I believe in sacrifice and having priorities.
It started with a dream as a kid, and became reality through action and commitment. (The Secret.)
The luck believers didn’t see the 5am workouts in the middle of winter. They didn’t see the three times daily training sessions; the video sessions; the weight training sessions; the swimming sessions; the sprinting sessions; the commitment to diet and mental preparation; and the twice daily visits to the physiotherapist seven days a week for six months, to come back from my injuries.
I played again the following season after my knee reconstruction, but it was over. I wasn’t the same athlete. My knee injury came on the back of two previous seasons of little game time – thanks to the dislocated shoulder and the chronic groin injury.
There is no place to hide on the field, and I couldn’t do the things I used to be able to do. The passion and love for the game was gone.
When I found myself driving to games and seeing a guy riding his bike to the beach and thinking “I want to be that guy”, I knew it was time to hang up the boots.
Because I believe there are moments in life that lead you to where you are today.
If my football career continued past my 24th birthday and into my 30’s, I wouldn’t be a blogger, and probably would have never married my wife.
There are also skills I learned from my sporting career that have served me well in blogging. I learned about communication, focus, self discipline, and what it feels like to get publicly criticized in the newspaper, on TV and in the street – usually by people who have never met you – which also happens in blogging.
I understand how lost and lonely athletes can feel once they retire. All those years of certainty, routine, and team camaraderie are suddenly gone and you’re left with just yourself.
What was I going to do with my life? How was I going to support myself?
I bummed around for about a year doing odd jobs and feeling sorry for myself until I ended up in the construction industry. It was a move that proved to be beneficial as it was a portable industry and once Caz and I got married it helped me find employment around the world.
Financially I did pretty well out of football and, combined with Caz’s dedication to her teaching career and part-time jobs, we were able to accumulate two properties, one of which we would own free and clear by the age of 32 – no easy feat if you know property prices in Australia. It was only two blocks away from Mooloolaba Beach on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland – a pretty awesome location.
Life was good.
After getting married in 2002 we took off on our dream 5 year extended honeymoon around the world. We lived in Bangkok teaching English for 6 months and travelled extensively through Southeast Asia.
Next was a year living in Dublin and traveling around the UK and a 5 month overland trip from Uganda to Cape Town in East Africa.
Not ready to settle down after all that, we moved on again and lived in Raleigh, North Carolina for four years, Caz teaching and me working in construction and also for Delta airlines. We travelled extensively through the States, loved it, and we plan live there again.
During our time living in the States and a brief stint back living in Australia we struggled with the idea of being tied to a job and a destination. We longed for freedom, hated our jobs, and felt our lives were increasingly unfulfilled.
We wanted independence, we wanted time-freedom, and we wanted to live wherever and whenever we wanted.
We decided we needed to create a portable income. So we turned to the internet to find it.
There are people doing exceptional things on the internet, and then there are sales letters and people selling the “false” dream – you know the overnight one based on luck. I’m sure you’ve read them. And maybe even replied.
Seriously do not feel bad about that. There is nothing wrong with you really wanting to create your dream life and making daft decisions in the process. Read on…
We initially spent roughly $30,000 dollars on online courses and seminars and went on to dabble in various home businesses. We tried selling on eBay, we tried Herbalife, we got involved with a personal development company, a travel business, AND, worst of all, donated $35,000 dollars to the stock market trading options.
There was MORE, but I’m just too embarrassed to mention them – nothing illegal – just embarrassing. When you are looking for a way out, it is crazy some of the things you will believe in and try.
HOT TIP – Never ever play around on the stock market with money you can’t afford to lose. When the pressure is on and you have to make quick decisions, you will always second guess yourself. And you get burnt, and often, and trying to win back money you’ve lost is even more deadly.
We failed at all those business ideas because we chased money and not the passion.
When I look back now I could never see myself in any of those roles and was kidding myself. It just wasn’t me. The skills and knowledge needed didn’t come naturally to me and I was embarrassed to tell people what I was doing – that should have been a red flag.
(For a large part of this we were also suffering from reverse culture shock which we knew nothing about. This is why we always like to talk about it on this blog as it can lead you to make decisions stemming from disconnection and heartache.)
Whilst those business failures took a lot out of us emotionally and we wasted many months, even years, of our life pursuing them they didn’t totally cripple us financially.
We found another way to do that.
Because we had previously invested well, we turned our attention back to property investing. If only we could get enough properties and people paying us rent and accumulate passive income we would be free – that was the dream remember!
Raleigh, North Carolina is a fantastic city in which to live. It’s affordable, has a young population, a great location, a happening college vibe and sports scene. We have amazing friends there, and a ton of memories.
It’s hard to explain to people when we have been all over the world that we would love to live again in Raleigh. But some places just get under your skin.
Raleigh also had a solid real estate market. It’s not like west coast USA or Florida with huge spikes and troughs in the market. It just gradually chugs along. However, every city has its ‘troubled areas’ where only the super experienced should invest – guess where we ended up investing?
We purchased a 4-unit building for $150,000 and at full occupancy would bring in approx $800 per month positive cash flow. Cha ching! It was going to be the start of our empire.
I wasn’t a big believer in following your gut back then and always listened to those little voices in my head…“Craig, just think about what you can do with that $800 positive cash flow per month! A few more of those and you’ll never have to work again!”
After several weeks of loan applications and building inspections, it came down to 5 minutes before we had to sign the papers or lose the deal.
The gut said, No you idiot, something just doesn’t feel right! But the head kept saying $800 cash flow a month. Chase that money!
We signed the deal without doing my due diligence or running the numbers with consideration to the property being unoccupied, and hidden maintenance costs.
The street was taken over by drug dealers and gangs, rents never came in on time, if ever, and repairs were constant – the heating in the winter and the A/C in the summer – as well as constant vandalism.
I had secret meetings with the police and they bunkered down in one empty apartment for evening stakeouts to bust the gangs. We often had to break in and evict tenants. I was physically threatened many times by neighbors and fined by the county for trash littering the front of the property.
We had to continually dig into our Australian equity to pay the mortgage and insurance.
We tried to sell for 18 months, but because it was a commercial property the value was largely calculated by the income it produced, so it went down sharply. This was also during the peak of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in the US and people were nervous. Nobody wanted to touch it – they were smarter than me, they did their due diligence.
For a long time I ignored the numbers and avoided opening the bills hoping the problem would vanish. I just kept believing lady luck would visit and take it off our hands.
Many nights I would cry myself to sleep because deep down I knew what was happening. The way we had our finances structured, EVERYTHING was at risk.
When I finally sat down and had a good look at our financial situation, we were done.
I’ll never forget the day at home in Raleigh when I had my 2 year old daughter in my arms and called Caz at her teaching job and I said, “It’s over, even if we can sell this property we are still WAY in debt” – I broke down and cried like a baby.
I was a complete failure and had lost everything I had every earned in my sporting career, and all Caz’s hard work as a teacher and working two jobs was for nothing.
We had to sell our property in Australia, and to top it off we were left with the bonus prize of $30,000 in credit card debt.
We were bankrupt.
All up we lost close to $500,000.
I don’t think you could get any lower.
I would often think, would it be worse if someone else caused you to lose everything, or if you were the one to blame?
Either way, it’s a dark and lonely place to be. If you’ve ever lost a half a million dollars, you’ll know what I mean.
You can’t run or hide from it. Not only are you left with your own remorse and guilt, but you have to deal with the words and whispers that are spoken about how stupid you were– they cut like razor blades.
HOT TIP #2 – Never ever use credit cards to pay off other credit loans.
For MANY months I argued on the phone with the bank (Wachovia) for a solution. They were meant to be helping struggling homeowners during the GFC crisis by restructuring loans – they didn’t want to know me.
We couldn’t sell it, no matter how much we dropped the price. I had one last phone call with the people at Wachovia and I simply told them we are walking away, the property is now yours, the keys are in the door.
I was emotionally and financially spent.
I struggled for so long playing the blame game. I blamed the local real estate agent who supposedly knew investments and that area very well. I screamed she never should have let us purchase that property. I blamed the tenants, I blamed the GFC, I blamed Wachovia, I blamed everyone – but me.
But at the end of the day, it was our call. I knew property investing pretty well, and there’s no way we should have bought that place. We should have done our due diligence and we got greedy, lazy, and arrogant.
Listen to your gut, your gut knows.
Somehow, during the final 6 months of us living in Raleigh and during all this property fiasco, we started this thing called a travel blog.
I had never heard of a blog before. I knew nothing about design, SEO, building email lists, and social media. We stumbled on a few others doing it, found out there was very little financial investment, and got started on this new chapter in our lives.
The one thing I finally learned after all my mistakes was to follow your PASSION.
There is nothing that makes us feel more alive than travel. We love sharing tips and stories with others, and at that stage had already accumulated 9 years of extensive travel and living abroad experience to share.
The first 6 months was incredibly difficult. Caz was teaching full-time, which also took several hours at night and over the weekends, and I was working full-time for Delta. We were raising a toddler and had a normal busy life.
I stayed up until midnight every night and got up at 4am to go to work. We were zombies, living on no sleep and still dealing with the hangover from our financial situation.
I think back to that period now and it’s mostly a blur. We were running on empty and fumbling our way through.
The GFC hit again and Caz lost her teaching position in North Carolina – the foreigner on the J1 visa understandably was the first to go. We were six months into the blogging – too fresh to be making money – and were faced with a return back to Oz.
We had re-located our family over from Australia with the dream of staying permanently, which at the time was a big financial and emotional commitment. We were devastated, but, there was a small glimmer of hope that perhaps this was our chance to work on building our blog – our true passion. We’d find a way to make it work.
Only a couple of weeks after losing her job, Caz’s boss had found an opening in the budget and offered her job back.
Two weeks before, she would have bent down and kissed her feet in gratitude, but now, after coming to terms with moving home, something had shifted.
A decision had to be made: Go home (with tail between legs), and finally create that dream life you really want, or stay and keep spinning your wheels.
Despite desperately wanting to stay in the States, a very determined voice spoke that now was the time to swallow your pride, apply all we’d learned and make it happen.
There would not be another opportunity. Success does not leave room for fear and complacency.
For the first time in years I knew we were making the right decision, but still my heart was heavy.
It was at this moment that the second lowest point in my life occurred.
I had to face reality.
I was 36 years old, married for 8 years, a father, and here I was moving back home to live with my parents. I was bankrupt, had huge credit card debt, had no job prospects, no possessions, no superannuation (retirement savings), and no plan.
My self-esteem was ZERO.
I am extremely fortunate my parents are very supportive and opened up their home for us. We will be forever grateful. But it was extremely tough to swallow.
To go from being a professional sportsman, to owning Real Estate, to having so much freedom traveling and living around the world for many years, to end up living back with my parents was depressing to say the least. It’s nothing personal against them, it’s just not what I was supposed to be doing with my life, at my age, with my own family.
I felt like a loser. I felt guilty. I hated myself and my life. I felt a responsibility to take care of my family financially. I had failed.
Fortunately my parents own a two story house and we had the upstairs level to ourselves – 3 bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchen – things could have been worse.
I started working with a mate of mine back in construction, and Caz started teaching part-time. It was good to be busy and earning money again. On the side we continued to build y Travel Blog and learned as much as we could about being a travel blogger.
We were making steady progress, but little money. Our focus and game plan was to build our brand and readership over a two year period first.
After a few months back home we finally had exciting news, we were expecting our second child. It gave us inspiration and motivation to keep going, to keep believing that good things could happen again.
We were excited about our 3 month ultrasound check up. It was going to be even more special this time as Kalyra was in the ultra-sound room with us to see her little sister or brother on the big screen.
The nurse started the ultra-sound and turned on the TV monitor, and when I saw her facial expression change from cheery to blank, I just knew.
We had lost the baby.
I don’t even remember what we said to Kalyra.
It hit us both really hard, Caz more so being the carrier of our unborn child and having to have surgery to complete the miscarriage. The roller-coaster of emotions started again.
Fortunately, several months later we conceived for a third time. There were no complications and baby Savannah was born.
We decided from the beginning of our blog to put ourselves out there, to be transparent and, not only tell our story, but show our story. Our passion became our mission, to not only create our own dream life, but inspire others to do the same. We know the value of travel with our kids and we want to do all we can to share this lifestyle.
Unfortunately to be able to make that difference and stand up for your passion you have to put yourself out there and promote what you do. We always try to soften this by providing a ton of value and giving our time to others in a friendly and fun way. Doing this comes with sacrifice though. You cop flack from others, you get more eye rolls, and smart arse comments.
I still get uncomfortable sometimes updating our status on social media. I’ve never been one to toot my own horn – always better to get someone else to toot it and the sound travels twice as far.
But you have to make the decision – your passion and dreams or living your life for other people?
Who cares what the naysayers tell you and how they make you feel? All that matters is that you are following your heart and caring passionately about making a difference.
I’m never going to blatantly brag about any opportunities, but I’m not going to apologise for them either. At the end of the day we are promoting travel and our brand, so getting excited about a destination and sharing it on social media is just a part of what we do.
For the first two years we published almost daily, did courses, attended conferences, and worked on our business to the early hours of the morning. Wrote. networked. wrote. networked. wrote. networked.
We devoted every spare minute we had to working our business. I can’t remember the last time I sat on the couch with my feet up and watched a movie. (and even when we are not on trips it’s work from sun up to sun down.)
We’d travel hours to attend meetings and events – none of which made us money – but we did it to build relationships and to prove to the Universe that we were serious. Many of these Caz attended to the early hours while pregnant, or when we went to the Problogger conference in Melbourne with newborn baby Savannah in her arms.
I’ve barely slept in 3 years. By the time we’d get home from work, spend time with the kids, prepare dinner, clean up, bath the kids, read to the kids, and then get them to sleep we wouldn’t start working on our blog until 8.30pm at the earliest and wouldn’t see bed before midnight. I’m sure this is a familiar story for other parent bloggers.
There’s been endless technical issues with our site, juggling parent life, jobs, and traveling with kids on the road whilst trying to run the business.
Our house is a constant mess, we have no routine, I still only live off 5 hours sleep per night, and it’s difficult to keep friendships to the level we would like.
It’s like any business. It takes work, time and sacrifice.
Don’t get me wrong, we are fortunate to be where we are now – we love what we do – but there is a tradeoff. There is always a tradeoff.
We don’t travel like we used to as just travellers and not bloggers. We have to constantly update social media, take photos, take notes, shoot video, edit, publish and promote. We have to engage, reply to comments on the blog, reply to emails, attend meet-ups, get on skype calls.
Shit. By the time we’ve taken photos of our lunch, updated facebook, tweeted, pinned and instagrammed the kids are running loose and our food is cold.
It becomes your life. It’s an addiction and can get overwhelming.
But this is the path we have now chosen, and it sure beats banging nails for a living. The alternative is us both working full-time jobs and being away from our kids. This way, we get far more personal time with our kids and we are seeing the world together.
On top of all this Caz had a health scare and over a 12 month period had surgery three times, partly because it’s a tricky condition and partly because of the hospital’s incompetence. She’s still kind of battling with it.
I also had a chronic lower back injury for about 8 months that almost needed surgery. It was a burst disk that was pushing on my sciatic nerve and shooting pain all the way down my leg. I was in terrible pain for most of that time, could not sit in a chair, couldn’t play with the kids, and the only way to get comfortable was to lay flat or stand up. For several months I had to stand up with my laptop on a tall bench to blog, which got tiring real quick.
It’s been hard work, extremely hard, and there’s been MANY times I’ve wanted to quit and walk away.
But we’ve come too far now.
As they say,
“Winners never quit, and quitters never win”
That has been our secret. To say No matter what, this is our passion, we have value to share and we’ll do what ever it takes.
We try to look above the challenges for the silver lining. There have been some real high’s being back in Australia with our business and personally as a family. And yes, I will say we are very fortunate and grateful that we have two adorable, healthy girls.
It’s very rewarding and encouraging to kick little goals along the way and throughout the process Caz has been AMAZING! She’s a very determined woman, an incredible mother, and a great friend. She’s very passionate about what she does and has really been a rock to lean on in bad times.
Our financial situation has placed an incredible strain on our relationship, and there are several times when we almost separated.
We’ve of course argued and said things we shouldn’t have and often wanted to walk away to stop the guilt and the pain. And then we don’t even want to go there with how much we feel we’ve let our girls down. That is a heavy burden to carry.
Its been said that financial pressures are the number one cause of divorce. I know why. If it wasn’t for the years of travel we shared giving us such a firm foundation, I think we would have become another statistic.
There’s been long walks and a lot of reflecting. But our love, our friendship, our kids, and our travel memories are everything to us and these challenges have bonded us now like never before!
These days, we mostly just argue about who has the biggest nose:
One of the things that has kept me going over the years has been looking back on our travel experiences.
We’ve spent a lot of time in third world countries and during the tougher times I’ve always reminded myself that there is always someone worse off than you, and usually much worse off.
There’s been the family in Laos we spent a week with who lived inside a cave for 10 years during the Vietnam War to escape the aerial bombings, only coming out under the cover of darkness to attend to their crops. Many years after the war was over, one of their sons picked up an undetonated bomb and had his arm blown off. But he was so happy and successful attending University, running tours of the local area and building his own bar.
His secret: get up and over it and make something of your life.
There’s been the guy with no arms and no legs begging on the beach in Vietnam.
There’s been the kids in Malawi who have no running water, no possessions, extremely hot weather, but the happiest people I have ever met with the biggest smiles on their faces!
Many times I have said to myself “Craig, you are very fortunate to come from Australia, you have two arms and two legs and you are breathing, you are going to be ok”.
Thank you to travel for giving me a broader perspective. Thank you to those I have met traveling for showing tremendous courage and the will to live without the freedoms and opportunity that I’m fortunate to have in my own country.
That’s the only luck I believe in – the place you were born.
If you are personally having a rough time, hang in there and never think you are alone. Look at the crap flung at us for the past 5 years and look how we could still create our dream lifestyle. You can too. We are not special or any different to you. We just made a decision to not accept anything but the life we really wanted.
I like reading quotes, I find them inspiring and uplifting and here are a few I’ve fallen back on during the darker days to pick me up:
“If you’re going through hell, keep going” – Winston Churchill
“This too shall pass” – ancient proverb
”To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.” – unknown
We have one hand that has reached the ground, and the other is about to join it and pull us out of this black whole we dug.
I no longer cry myself to sleep. I believe in myself again and I’m excited about my future. Things are going really well with our blogging business and my relationship with Caz is as strong as it’s ever been and we recently celebrated our 11 year anniversary.
It’s time for us to move on now. It’s time for us to get our own life back and start living again, instead of merely existing. (We’ve got great plans coming this year for a great Aussie family road trip)
I turn 40 this year. I’m grateful these events took place in my 30’s so I had time to recover, and not in my 50’s or 60’s, as I know has happened to many people.
We spend our days caught up with our problems and trying to move forward, and our focus is often on the wrong things. We put off what we really want to do until we are retired or when the house is paid off or when we get that promotion.
None of us are getting any younger and the older you get the quicker the years seem to pass. If you are thinking of a career change, relocating, or even ending a relationship, listen to your gut and don’t waste another day.
“The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” – W. M. Lewis
When I hear that question now…what is your secret?…I don’t see luck and I don’t remember any secrets.
I see struggle, I see lessons, I see persistence, and I see forgiveness and gratitude.
I’m finishing this post as I sit on my Qantas flight on the way back to Sydney from the Emirates Partnership launch in Dubai. I’m listening to one of my favourite Coldplay songs ‘The Scientist’ and the words:
“Tell me your secrets, nobody said it was easy, nobody said it would be so hard, I’m going back to the start”
These words ring true in my head and I’m not embarrassed to say that again I’m shedding a few tears when I think back to when I didn’t know how I was going to feed my kids, how I was going to pay the bills, and how was I ever going to forgive myself.
Starting all over again was tough, but it brought us full-circle to where we are today. I believe I earned that seat on the plane.
I made a decision that I wasn’t going to let those dark days define my life, and I was going to stop making excuses.
“The day you take ownership of your actions, the day you forgive yourself, the day you give yourself permission to succeed, that’s the day you turn your life around”.
You can spend your life thinking of a thousand reasons why something won’t work and why you can’t have the life you deserve, or, you can focus on the reasons why you CAN.
Never give up on yourself.
It’s up to you.
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